Fall hiking season is one of my favorite times to be out on the trails! I absolutely adore the changing colors, the crisp air, and the leaves crunching beneath my boots. Hiking between towering trees whose leaves are infused with bright hues of amber, crimson, and maroon and injected with rays of sunshine is addictive.
The best part of fall hiking is that even after the leaves peak and begin to fall, the season is not over. In fact, it’s just beginning. The leaf-peeping crowds are waning, the trails become an oasis for solitude, and you can often still find lots of color.
So if you’re ready to pull on your wool socks, lace up your boots, and hit the trails this autumn season, you’re going to want to read these fall hiking tips! These seven fall hiking tips will help you have safe and enjoyable adventures while hiking this fall season.
PRO TIP: If you are going to be hiking in the National Parks this fall, make sure to buy an America the Beautiful pass. This pass will get you free access to all of the National Parks for an entire year!
Why Hike in the Fall?
Just because summer is over doesn’t mean hiking season has to come to a close. In fact, I think that fall is one of the very best times of year to go for a hike!
Which season is best for hiking? Read my guide where I share the PROS and CONS of hiking in EVERY season!
Here are a few reasons why you should go hiking in the fall:
- Comfortable temperatures. Autumn brings crisp temperatures, which are a welcome relief to the scorching summer heat.
- Color. Watching the leaves change colors and light up the trails is one of the best parts of fall hiking! Stick around until after peak color to watch the crowds die down on your favorite trails.
- Minimal crowds. Once peak fall color week(s) is over, you’ll start to see solitude on the trails.
7 Fall Hiking Tips
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1. Plan and Prepare
This is a big safety tip for hiking any time of year, but I’m going to list a few planning and preparation points that are specifically related to the fall hiking season.
❄️ Check the weather forecast. Fall weather can be unpredictable. Higher elevations and northern regions can experience extreme temperatures and conditions like snow, negative wind chills, and ice, making trails dangerous, or even impassible. Also, if unprepared for these types of conditions, hypothermia can progress quickly.
🥾 Read about current trail conditions. Use the AllTrails app to get current trail conditions. AllTrails trip reports reveal important, current information about the condition of the trails. Are the trails covered in a blanket of snow? Is there a lot of ice? Did the area receive precipitation recently? Are the river crossings passable? Is it muddy? Knowing the answers to these questions will not only help prepare you and help you know what to pack but also help you decide if you should really be venturing onto the trail at all.
☀️ Look up sunrise and sunset times for the area. Use a weather app or execute a simple Google search to find out when the sun will rise and set for the day(s) of your hike. Since days are shorter in the fall, you’ll have to plan your hikes accordingly.
🧊 Prepare for unpredictable conditions. Snow and ice can arrive as early as August in higher elevations or northern regions; sometimes, it lingers year-round. A sunny, warm day can transform quickly, especially if you are climbing in elevation. Carry a pair of microspikes so that you can tackle icy patches. You might even need snowshoes if there’s a possibility of snow.
🎒 Prepare to carry a heavier backpack. Fall hikes involve carrying more gear and heavier gear than in the summer. You’ll usually need extra layers to prepare for a variety of weather, extra pairs of socks in case yours get wet, and footwear to help you traverse the snow and/or ice like microspikes or snowshoes.
📅 Prepare for shorter days. Remember, days start getting shorter in June, and the shortest day of the year is in December! If you only want to hike during the daylight, make sure you plan a hike that you can tackle during those hours. But always come prepared to hike in the dark, whether or not you actually plan to do so, by carrying a headlamp in your pack.
2. Wear Bright Colors
Fall is hunting season! Every year hunters come into the parks and onto the trails in pursuit of game like deer, bison, elk, and turkey.
While hunters are responsible for maintaining vigilance as well, hikers should help themselves and the hunters out by wearing bright colors. This is so that the hunters know exactly where you are and don’t accidentally fire a bullet in your direction.
→ READ NEXT: Tips for Chasing Fall Colors in the USA 🍁
3. Bring the Right Gear
You can read all about the 10 essentials for hikers and campers in my full guide here.
But here is some fall-specific gear I usually add to my pack:
- Microspikes >>> To help you navigate icy terrain or hard-packed snow.
- Snowshoes >>> To help you navigate through deep snow.
- Gloves >>> To keep your hands nice and warm. I’d highly recommend that you invest in merino wool like the ones I linked to.
- Beanie >>> Or an ear wrap. Keep your extremities from freezing!
- Extra warm layers >>> I like to bring a warm base layer, a cozy sweater, and a waterproof shell.
- Extra pair of wool socks >>> In case your feet get wet.
4. Pay Close Attention to the Trail
Autumn brings falling leaves. These leaves will rapidly clutter the hiking trails, leaving the path indiscernible at times.
To help stay on the right track, you need to pay extra attention to the trail. Be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Be on the lookout for certain distinguishable landmarks like an oddly shaped tree, a giant rock, or a river crossing, to keep you on the right path. That way, if you get lost, you can use these landmarks to help get you back on the trail.
Also, be vigilant of your footing. Be aware that the fallen leaves could be masking things underneath like rocks, tree roots, and water, that could cause you to trip, fall, get wet, or twist your ankle.
🧭 Along with bringing a paper map, it also helps to download offline maps on a navigational app like Gaia GPS. Combined, these two navigational tools will help you stay on the right trail.
→ READ NEXT: How to Avoid Getting Lost on the Trails 🧭
5. Beware of Wildlife
Wildlife/human interactions tend to happen more frequently in the fall. This is mostly due to the animals wanting to fatten up before they go into hibernation for the winter. So they’re quite a bit more active during this time.
Since the odds of you seeing some sort of wildlife – intimidating or not – on the trail are pretty high, make sure you read up on what animals are in the area and prepare accordingly.
If you are hiking and camping with mountain goats, you’ll want to know that it’s okay if they approach you after you’ve just peed. They’re not being aggressive; they just love licking urine.
→ READ NEXT: Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Campers 🐻
6. Drink Even When You’re Not Thirsty
Staying hydrated is crucial even in colder months when you may not feel as thirsty. Your body needs water to keep you fueled and energized throughout the entire duration of the hike.
I am proclaiming this to you as much as I am to myself because I definitely do not drink as much water as I should while hiking in the fall – or winter, for that matter!
PRO TIP: If you don’t like drinking water because of how cold it is, try insulating your water bottle by wrapping a wool sock around it. This will prevent it from getting icy. 🧊
7. See the Fall Colors But Stick Around Until After Peak
Watching the color of the leaves transform from green to shades of red, yellow, and orange is one of the biggest perks of fall hiking.
To see the colorful fall leaves, track the colors on a map. The Smoky Mountains publishes a prediction map each year. You can check the 2023 fall colors here. Refer to blogs, AllTrails trail reports, and Instagram geotags to find live, up-to-date fall color info.
→ READ NEXT: Tips for Chasing Fall Colors in the USA 🍁
While the colorful leaves are pretty magnificent, this small window of time where color is at its peak isn’t the only time to go out and take a fall hike. In fact, my favorite time to go hiking in the fall is after the leaves have fully peaked.
When the leaves peak and begin to fall, the crowds vanish, the trails turn silent, and lots of colors are still popping up along the paths. Come out for a late fall hike and see what I mean!
Discover Your Next Fall Adventure
Where to next? Here are some of my favorite places to hike in the fall season!